Senior Home Safety Issues — What Family Caregivers Can Do

Falls are always a concern for family caregivers of seniors, with good reason.

There are 29 million falls each year and they are the leading cause of injury-related death in older adults. More than 7 million older adults require medical treatment or restricted activity following a fall.

Falls are a primary cause for lack of independence, which can result in seniors no longer living at home.

Did you know that the home in which your senior loved one chooses to live as they age may be contributing to falls that could lead to injury, moving, or even their death?

Older homes often haven’t aged well and can cause senior loved ones to be unsafe in the very home in which they choose to age in place.

Worn out homes can lead to falls for seniors when they become unsafe, even when the senior is steady on their feet.

Failures of Aging Homes

There are many drawbacks to aging homes that may make it difficult, expensive, and even unsafe for our senior loved ones to continue to live in their home.

Here are a few items that family caregivers can check and repair as needed:

  • Outdated electric outlets and wiring; use of extension cords
  • Uneven floors
  • Inadequate lighting
  • Insufficient funds to maintain or repair a home
  • Peeling paint
  • Inferior insulation
  • Nonfunctioning heating or air conditioning units

These are some items that can make that home more livable for older residents:

  • Installation of grab bars, ramps, curbless showers, lever handles
  • Utilization of available tax credits for repairs; programs to do repairs like rebuilding together, volunteer helpers
  • Room for mobility using assistive devices like walkers and wheelchairs
  • Main floor living and sleeping
  • Zero step entry

Who will observe these unsafe housing conditions?

Who can help your senior loved one repair, renovate, or replace items in their “forever” home?

Recent Study of Seniors’ Homes

Meals on Wheels, which is in a position to observe the home environment of millions of seniors across the country, has created a report entitled Older Adults and In-Home Safety and published in 2017. This report exposes common home hazards as well as interventions that can keep seniors safer while reducing falls in the home.

Often it is up to family caregivers to improve the health not only of their senior loved ones but also of the homes in which they choose to live.

Family members should to work together with senior loved ones to discuss what needs to be repaired or replaced and how best to accomplish it for their safety.

According to the report:

“About three in ten Americans age 45 and over say they are very or somewhat concerned about…”

  • Being able to afford home modifications that will enable them to remain at home (30%)
  • Finding reliable contractors or handymen, should they need to modify their home (28%)
  • Being forced to move to a nursing home because they have trouble getting around their own home (31%)

We think those numbers would be higher if more people realized what they will face as they age.

Obstacles to Home Upgrades and Maintenance

Many older adults haven’t maintained or upgraded their homes because:

  • they feel they can’t do the work themselves
  • they feel they can’t afford it
  • they seem to lack knowledge about what changes to make
  • don’t know how to find a contractor
  • they want someone else to do it all for them
  • they don’t trust contractors, afraid of scams

Adding to the obstacles is the rise in the number of people with disabilities as they age making it difficult to do their own maintenance, even if they know how to do it.

By 2035, it is estimated that 31.2 million older households will include a member with a disability.

Observations of Researchers

The home visitors for Meals on Wheels who completed the survey report found disturbing sights inside and outside the homes of seniors who had applied for Meals on Wheels delivery.

Many of the hazards they encountered were directly related to fall risk for the homeowner who is aging in place.

The hazards include:

  • Peeling or flaking paint
  • Evidence of pests
  • Broken furniture and lamps
  • Flooring in need of repair
  • Tripping hazards
  • Broken or boarded up windows
  • Crumbling foundation
  • Open holes
  • Missing bricks, siding or other outside materials
  • Roof problems
  • Uneven walking surfaces
  • Inability to reach shelves
  • Inability to transfer in and out of shower, house, toilet
  • Inability to walk up stairs

Are any of these hazards present in your senior loved one’s home? Should you check their home to see?

Can you help them correct any of these conditions?

Help for Family Caregivers and Seniors

There are solutions to the gaps in aging homes that can make the environment more livable for your senior loved one.

Identifying what needs to be repaired, renovated, or replaced — as well being aware about the areas in which your senior struggles to accomplish activities of daily living without modifications — is the first step for solving these issues.

There are professionals who can help upgrade a senior’s home, including handypersons, renovation specialists, certified aging in place specialists (CAPS), universal design interior designers, and even family DIYers.

Evaluation and recommendations by an occupational therapist can help determine if your senior loved one needs modifications to complete activities of daily living such as bathing or cooking.

There are also agencies that can help with costs and expertise to help update and modify living environments for safety that caregivers can contact including Rebuilding Together, Habitat for Humanity, Home Depot Foundation, Wells Fargo Housing Foundation, AARP, National Council on Aging (NCOA), Area Agencies on Aging, faith based communities, university volunteers, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Weatherization Assistance program (WAP), Section 504 home repair program of the USDA grant, long term care insurance policies, state tax credits, and state funded organizations.

“There is nothing more important than a good, safe, secure home.”  Rosalynn Carter